Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 10/20/19: Ancient Icelanders And Others Behaving Badly

Good Morning!

1. Confession: I called a stranger an asshole on Facebook yesterday. I had patiently explained to a Facebook Borg-infected friend that no, the Justice Department report on Hillary’s email fiasco had not proven for all time that she hadn’t “done anything wrong,” quite the contrary. The report revealed that she was directly responsible for over 600 security breaches (after saying otherwise for more than a year). That means that she was reckless, incompetent, irresponsible and dishonest, and, since the applicable statute doesn’t require intent, could have been prosecuted. The report did find that there was no evidence that Clinton deliberately set out to endanger national security, which was never the issue.

Some clod following the thread wrote that you “could sure tell who follows Fox News talking points.” Well, I’m sick of that lazy deflection, and anyone who uses it, especially on me, is an asshole, and needs to be told.  maybe ist not too late to get treatment. It’s even more of an asshole thing to say than the reflex “But ….Trump!” retort.

2. Yes, this is unethical. Yes, it is newsworthy. No, it is receiving almost no national coverage outside of conservative news sources. Rep. Katie Hill, Vice Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, has been engaged in a three-way sexual relationship involving a  staffer and her husband. This would not matter to me, and should not matter to you, except that the woman involved is Hill’s subordinate. The workplace is not a dating bar or personal harem, not in the private sector, not in Congress. In addition, close personal relationships create conflicts of interest for the supervisor in any office. I would mention the inherent imbalance of power that makes it impossible for an employee to consent to a superior’s advances in such a situation, but of course Lee knows that, being an ardent #MeToo and Time’s Up! supporter.

The hypocrisy in the Democratic Party on this issue is wide, deep, and nauseating, except, I guess, to Democrats. Last week, discussing this issue with lawyers following my ethics seminar, a usually smart, fair, male attorney actually opined that Joe Biden’s serial non-consensual groping wasn’t really a problem because “he didn’t mean it to be sexual assault.” The lawyer really said this, though “I didn’t mean anything by it” has been the reflex excuse of every sexual harasser from Bill O’Reilly to Louis C.K.

3. Stipulated: President Trump’s harsh rhetoric in the aborted White House meeting with Democrats was one more stupid self-inflicted wound. Given the barrage of ad hominem attacks by the party that she leads, and the disrespect for the office that Pelosi herself has orchestrated (that mocking clap at the State of the Union speech alone was unforgivable), Trump was certainly provoked, but the President is not supposed to slide into the gutter just because his adversaries live there. It’s swell to be a “fighter”—Trump is probably correct that Mitt Romney would have been elected President in 2012 if he had a some Trump in him—but that doesn’t mean that gratuitous incivility and nastiness is a competent or responsible political strategy.

However, this image, part of a cartoon by Andy Marlette for the Pensacola News Journal earlier this year… Continue reading

Lunch Time Ethics Appetizer, 4/17/2019: Accountability, Conflicts of Interest, Incivility, Hype And Privilege

It’s a real ethics poop-poop platter…

1. Red Sox lousy start ethics. Boston Red Sox starting ace Chris Sale, widely regarded as one of the top two or three pitchers in baseball who signed a rich multi-year extension with the team right before the season began, lost his fourth straight start yesterday to begin the season. He told reporters, “This is flat-out embarrassing. For my family, for our team, for our fans. This is about as bad as it gets. Like I said, I have to pitch better…It sucks. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I just flat-out stink right now.”

2. The Hollywood writers vs agents mess. I haven’t posted on this because I can’t find a copy of the controversial “Code of Conduct” that the agents refuse to sign. I also need to bone up on  the agency laws in New York and California. This article is a good summary of the show-down. Regarding the question of conflicts of interest in the practice of “packaging” and agents going into the production business, , however, it seems clear that the writers have the better arguments. From the article:

Packaging is a decades-old practice under which agencies may team writers with other clients from their stables for a given project. With packaging fees, an agent forgoes the usual 10 percent commission fee paid to them by individual clients; in its place, they are paid directly by the studio….The writers argue that agencies violate their fiduciary obligations to their clients when they make money from studios instead of from the people they are representing. The practice of accepting packaging fees, the writers say, allows the agencies to enrich themselves at the writers’ expense when they should be using their leverage to get more money for writer-clients.

Any time an agent gets paid by the party the agent is supposed to be negotiating with, that’s a textbook conflict. I’m amazed the agents have been getting away with this practice for so long. As for the production deals…

There are agency-affiliated companies that have moved into the production business — and this does not sit well with the writers unions. W.M.E., for instance, has an affiliate company called Endeavor Content. It was formed in 2017 and is a distributor of the show “Killing Eve,” as well as a producer of an epic drama coming from Apple TV Plus called “See.” C.A.A. also has an affiliate: Wiip. It is a producer of “Dickinson,” a comedy series that is also part of the Apple rollout scheduled for the fall. United Talent Agency is also getting in on production, with an affiliate called Civic Center Media. It has teamed up with M.R.C., the producer of “House of Cards,” to make new shows.

The agencies have argued that these affiliates are artist-friendly studios that will help writers, because they add to the number of potential buyers — which means more competition for writers’ services and bigger paychecks. The writers have said that agencies have a conflict of interest when they act as studios. How, they ask, can an agent represent you and also be your boss?

Bingo. The short and easy answer is “They can’t.”

Stay tuned… Continue reading

Harassment At Starbucks: If This Were An Isolated Episode, It Wouldn’t Be Worth An Ethics Post—But It’s Not. Now What?

At a Palo Alto Starbucks this week, a man wearing a red Make America Great Again cap, minding his own business, was confronted by a furious Rebecca Parker Mankey,  an appointed member of Palo Alto’s North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan Working Group and co-chairs the Bayshore Progressive Democrats.

She began shouting that he was a”hater of brown people” and “Nazi scum,” and exhorted the other  Starbucks customers and employees to join her in shaming him, . Mankey later said she was “heartbroken” that other “white people”—like her target— didn’t join her assault.   “I called him more names and told him to call the police. Then I yelled and asked someone else at Starbucks to call the police. He wouldn’t call the police, so I called him a wimp. He got his stuff together to leave. I followed him to the register while he complained about me. Then chased him out of Starbucks yelling at him to get the fuck out of my town and never come back,” she wrote. One he was in the parking lot, she threatening  to post pictures of him on social media—which she did—along with her version of the incident. She asked the public for help finding him so she could make sure he was harassed, saying, “I want him to have nowhere to hide.” Continue reading

Oscar Ethics: Let Us Pause To Marvel At The Unapologetic Jerkism Of Director Spike Lee

Director Spike Lee is a talented artist and an epic jerk, as he has proved too many times to mention. Lee reached his pinnacle of unethical grandstanding when he tweeted out what he thought was George Zimmerman’s address while the New Black Panthers were offering a bounty on Trayvon Martin’s shooter’s head. The man is an incurable race-baiter, as well as a constant catalyst for racial division. Last night’s Oscars put all of this on display, as well as a feature we don’t see that often so blatantly displayed: Lee has the sportsmanship and grace of a 9-year old.

When Green Book won the Oscar for Best Picture (as many had predicted),  Lee became visibly furious, then stood up and attempted to leave the Dolby Theater, the Associated Press reported. Lee stormed to the exit with his Oscar in hand, but was stopped by staffers who argued with him and eventually persuade him to  return to his seat. Lee’s film BlacKkKlansman was also nominated for Best Picture, and had won earlier in the night for its screenplay, which was co-written by Lee.

So far, nobody has been able to recall another nominee behaving so childishly and disrespectfully after losing in an Oscar race. Lee was defiantly unapologetic after the show, joking that he thought he was at a Knicks game and reacting to a ref’s “bad call.” That comment is also unethical, as the Oscars are supposed to be a collegial celebration of the art of movie-making, with all involved at least publicly supportive of the final awards, whoever they go to. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/13/2018: The All-Segue Edition

Good Morning!

(Though any day that begins with the legal gossip scandal-sheet website Above the Law sending me a “media inquiry” as they dig for dirt is not a good day.)

1. In brief. Well I have now received the appellant’s brief in a certain lingering law suit regarding Ethics Alarms. What fun. Anyone who wants to read it is welcome; those who have dealt with pro se submissions will immediately recognize the syndrome, lawyers may be amused, and non-lawyers may be edified. I expect to knock out the reply brief today, which won’t have to be more than a few pages. It’s not like I have better things to do or anything…

2. Speaking of cases that should have been thrown out of court…Reason reports:

In June, an Oakland County sheriff’s deputy pulled Dejuante Franklin over in front of a gas station for a traffic violation. While handing Franklin his ticket, NWA’s “Fuck tha Police” began to play in the background. As it turns out, James Webb, who did not know Franklin, witnessed the stop. He decided on his own accord to turn the song up louder before walking into the gas station store. When he exited, the officer slapped him with a ticket for misdemeanor noise violation, citing that Webb played the song at an “extremely high volume.”

It took 9 minutes of deliberation for a jury to bring in a verdict of  not guilty. This was an obvious attempted end-around the First Amendment by the officer, and the judge shouldn’t have let it get to a jury at all.

3. And speaking of abusing First Amendment rights…as well as “A Nation of Assholes,” MSNBC’s “Morning Joe’s” co-host and wife-to-be (don’t get me started on THAT) Mika Brzezinski,  called Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a “butt-boy” during yesterday’s show.  Why not? After all, CBS lets its on-air personalities call the President a “cock-holster.” Mika wouldn’t have had her filters down, of course, if the culture around MSNBC wasn’t rife with such hate, but she realized mid-show that this wasn’t exactly professional or civil news reporting, and babbled an apology. Too late!

An ethical, professional news station would suspend her, but this is MSNBC, and there are no ethical, professional news stations.

4. Meanwhile, speaking of media bias and unprofessional reporting...A New York Times “fact check” on the contentious meeting among Trump, Pence, Pelosi and Schumer had this amusing note:

“Mr. Trump has long charged that Democrats want open borders, slinging accusations at a higher clip in the waning days of the midterm elections campaign in November. Democrats do not want open borders, evidenced in part by border security legislation that Democrats have supported. What Democrats do not want is Mr. Trump’s costly border wall.”

Oh, that’s a fact, is it? No, Democrats, at least a great many of them, DO want open borders, evidenced in part by their wilful refusal to distinguish between illegal immigrants and legal immigrants, their insistence on signalling through their support for “Dreamers” that bringing children across the border illegally is a virtuous act, their position that illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the U.S. as longs as they don’t break any more laws, their constant demonization of necessary border enforcement efforts, and their proposals to abolish ICE. Continue reading

Afternoon Ethics Warm-Up, 12/12/18: Silent Sam, Nasty Nancy, Tendentious TIME

Happy pre-Christmas panic days!

Once we’re under the two week mark, it’s all anxiety, regrets, list-making, fatigue, nostalgia, and tree needles under the nails. This is what Andy called “the most wonderful time of the year.

1. The theory: political correctness and historical airbrushing is a higher priority than education. The University of North Carolina \Board of Trustees’ approved of a proposal to build erect a $5 million history center that would, among other things, house “Silent Sam,” a statue dedicated to fallen UNC grads who fought for the Confederacy. The statue stood on campus until protesters tore it down in August. Now some faculty members and graduate assistants are threatening to go on a “grade strike,” withholding grades on papers and exams to force the school to abandon “Silent Sam” for all time. They are also trying to encourage students to support their protest.

Wrote the UNC administration in response:

“This afternoon it came to my attention that some instructors have used their roles in the classroom to ask students to take a stand on the strike,” Blouin said in the email, a copy of which Campus Reform obtained. “The University has received student and parent complaints. Such actions have been interpreted as coercion and an exploitation of the teacher-student relationship and in fact are a violation of students’ First Amendment rights as well as federal law….Our students are entitled to receive their grades in a timely manner. It is especially critical for the students preparing to graduate next Sunday, as well as the thousands of students whose scholarships, grants, loans, visa status, school transfers, job opportunities, and military commissions may be imperiled because lack of grades threaten[s] their eligibility,” the provost stated. “The proposed strike exposes the University and individuals who withhold grades to legal claims for the harm they cause to students…“Failure to meet [the faculty and GA’s] responsibilities to their students, including timely submission of final grades, will result in serious consequences.”

Firing, I hope.

2. Boy, that Trump is such an uncivil boor! House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, setting a civility example for us all while describing her meeting with the President on “the wall’: “It’s like a manhood thing for him, as if manhood could ever be associated with him….It goes to show you: you get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.”

Nice.

Imagine the howls of indignation if the President described a foreign leader in such terms. Or the mass condemnation from both parties and the news media if any prior President had been insulted that way by a member of Congress.

3. “A person, a group, an idea, or an object that “for better or for worse… has done the most to influence the events of the year.” I would applaud TIME’s choice of journalists as the fading magazine’s “Person of the year” if it had the integrity to point out that this is an example of “the worse.” Indeed, journalists have deliberately warped and sabotaged public debate and discourse, withheld or buried information the public needs to know, divided the nation, defied their profession’s ethical standards, undermined their own institution and with it the health of American democracy, relentlessly worked to destabilize the Trump administration and undo the election, and have engaged in repeated incompetence, bias, dishonesty and conflicts of interest. The harm journalists have done is incalculable, and probably irreversible.

Quipped “Dilbert” cartoonist Scott Adams: “Fake News is TIME’s “Person of the Year.”

Bingo. Continue reading

Ethics Warm-Up, 10/24/2018: Catchers, Judges, Photographers, And Journalists Behaving Badly. Then There Are The Bombers….

Good afternoon!

You might as well know: I’ve been what they euphemistically  call “under the weather” recently. Ethics is getting in the way of my naps…

1. About those bombs…Not much that needs to be said about the explosive devices sent to Soros, the Clintons, Obama and—it fits–CNN, except this: it was inevitable. With conservatives being harassed and attacked in public places, Fox News offices and Republican offices being vandalized, and Democratic leadership and the media openly feeding the hate while rationalizing extreme incivility ( Philippe Reines, former adviser to Hillary Clinton, on MSNBC regarding mobs harassing Mitch McConnell and others: “People are doing these things because it’s all that’s left.” Gee, I guess there were some other tactics left after all, eh, Phil?), that some unstable wacko would decide to bring a gun to knife fight was a near certainty. Naturally, the news media and Democrats want to blame Republicans for the crimes. That’s not going to defuse the situation, and it’s also wrong.  The blame falls on all of those who have encouraged the rhetoric of hate and uncivil conduct rather than conducting political debate in a manner that doesn’t shame democracy.

You can make that list as easily as I can. When the Oklahoma City bombing occurred, the extreme anti-government rhetoric—by the standards of those times, at least–of the Right was fairly accorded the bulk of the blame for raising anger to a dangerous level. This time, the hate machine is being operated around the clock by the Left, and for two years without a break or a significant easing on the accelerator—indeed, it is pretty much the Democratic theme of the 2018 elections.

2. It’s a huge bat! It’s a black-robed blur! It’ SUPER JUDGE! In Chehalis, Washington, Judge R.W. Buzzard left the bench and chased  after two handcuffed inmates when they made a run for it from his Washington state courtroom. 22-year-old Tanner Jacobson and 28-year-old Kodey Howard bolted for the door and down  four flights of stairs, but the judge grabbed Howard just as he was about to exit the courthouse, and Jacobson was caught by police apprehended Jacobson a few blocks away.

As with the cases of bank tellers and grocery clerks who spontaneously play vigilante, the judge was exceeding his authority and interfering with law enforcement. This wasn’t his job, and is not the kind of image the judiciary wants to project. He should be disciplined, but probably won’t be.

Sheriff Rob Snaza said of the incident, “These things don’t happen very often.” No kidding. And they shouldn’t happen at all.
Continue reading